Croatia is one of my favorite destinations on the planet. I’ve explored the country in depth and consider myself a Croatia expert. It’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful and an absolutely divine place to spend the summer!
Which is why it drives me crazy when I see travelers making big mistakes in Croatia — mistakes that I’ve learned the hard way during my own travels in Croatia. A list of what NOT to do in Croatia.
It’s okay if you make mistakes! I don’t expect anyone to know Croatia like a native, and mistakes often turn into great memories.
But my ultimate goal is for you to have a Croatia trip that you’ll remember fondly for the rest of your life. Follow these tips and you will be well on your way.
Here is my list of what NOT to do in Croatia!
Table of Contents
The stone city of Grožnjan, Croatia, with a courtyard, some buildings with pillars, one building with bright blue shutters.
Croatia has more in common with Italy than Ukraine.
Assuming Croatia is in Eastern Europe.
The easiest way to piss off a Croatian is to tell them you visited because you’ve never been to Eastern Europe before. Yikes.
Eastern Europe is great. But Croatia is not Eastern Europe.
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A lot of travelers tend to think that anything east of Germany is considered Eastern Europe. Not so. Central Europe is a huge region that doesn’t get enough attention as its own entity. While Eastern Europe includes countries like Romania, Latvia, and Ukraine; Central Europe includes countries like the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary.
Some people refer to the countries of the Former Yugoslavia and Albania as the Balkans or the Western Balkans; I am one of them. The Balkans are also considered part of Central Europe.
(Then again, it can be complicated. Some Croatians reject the name “the Balkans” due to the history of war. Many Croatians prefer the term “the Adriatic.”)
Don’t expect Eastern European prices, either. It’s often said that if you want to save money in Europe, head east. And you can often get much better value for money in Central Europe than in Western Europe.
But Dubrovnik, Hvar, Rovinj, and Vis can be remarkably expensive. Like most other countries in Europe, the cheapest places tend to be in rural areas away from the coast. And if you’re looking for a cheap Croatia beach trip, you’re best off renting an apartment in an area more popular with Europeans, like the Makarska Riviera.
If you’re coming to Croatia for Eastern European prices, get ready for your eyes to pop out of your head.
An aerial view of Gruz Harbor in Dubrovnik seen from the top of a mountain. You see three GIANT cruise ships parked in a line. In the background, you see the Kornati Islands poking out of the ocean.
You do not want to be on one of those cruise ships! Image via DepositPhotos.
Visiting Croatia by cruise ship.
If I had to pick out the single worst thing about tourism in Croatia, it would be the impact of large cruise ships. If I could wave a magic wand and make all the megaships disappear from Croatia, I would.
Croatia is a popular cruise destination, and there are many cruises from Venice to Greece that stop along the Croatian coast, particularly in Dubrovnik.
But in the last few years, megaship tourism has surged, and Croatian cities are too small to accommodate these crowds. They can’t handle an extra 3,000 to 6,000 on top of the regular travelers they get. Go to Dubrovnik on a July day and the old city will be packed from wall to wall with sweaty people.
If you’re on a cruise ship, this is the only way you’ll experience Dubrovnik — during the hottest part of the day with all the massive crowds. If that’s the only glimpse of Dubrovnik you get, I don’t blame you for not enjoying yourself. That’s the reason why it’s best to avoid Dubrovnik when cruise ships are in port and it was extraordinary exploring an empty Dubrovnik in summer 2020.
Additionally, cruise ship passengers make a negligible economic impact on the destinations they visit. They don’t spend money on accommodation. They might not spend money on restaurants — why eat off the ship if it’s free on the ship?
That said — small sailing trips can be a wonderful way to see Croatia! It makes a much gentler impact on the environment, you spend more time in the ports and dock closer to town, and sailing the Adriatic is something you need to do once in your lifetime, even if it’s just for one day.
I did a sailing trip with Busabout that was a LOT of fun, though very much for young backpackers. (A great trip to take in my twenties, but I’ve aged out of that kind of trip. I’d go with G Adventures if I went today. You can see their Croatia sailing trips here.)
Just keep in mind that even with a small sailing ship, you’re on someone else’s schedule, not yours. You give up flexibility in exchange for that kind of trip.
Overall, you don’t need a tour in Croatia. It’s a very easy country to travel independently and you’ll be able to tailor a trip closer to your tastes if you rent a car and explore on your own.
Bol is a lot steeper than it looks in this photo.
Underestimating the steepness of the coastline.
On my most recent visit to Croatia, we started in the town of Bol on the island of Brač. We booked an apartment that was a bit further from the seafront because it was cheaper than the ones by the water’s edge.
Little did we know that walking back from the waterfront would be a 10-minute nearly-vertical uphill walk! And Bol was not the only place where we had that experience.
Croatia’s coastline is dramatic, jagged and mountainous. This steepness is why there are so many islands in the first place; it’s a world apart from the Italian side of the Adriatic.
And these old cities in Croatia are often not super-accessible. In Korčula, the old city itself is elevated like a wedding cake and accessible only by stairs. Rovinj is curvy and cobblestoned in addition to being steep. Even on the small island of Vis, parts of the town are walled off by steep inclines and staircases.
If you have mobility difficulties, Croatia can be very challenging. It’s not impossible to enjoy a trip here if you have mobility challenges, but I would do further research to make sure you’re able to get around easily.
And if you’re looking for a lazy trip without any multi-staircase climbs or trudges uphill, book accommodation close to the water!
Split’s worth exploring — but only for an afternoon.
Spending too much time in Split.
A lot of travelers choose to base in Split — and at first glance, it seems like a good idea. Split is Croatia’s second-largest city, home to the most flights in the country. It’s the main hub for ferries with easy access to lots of islands. It has a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Why not Split?
Well. It’s a big city. It gets horrendously hot in the summer. Diocletian’s Palace, which comprises much of the old city, is filled with price-gouging souvenir shops. And the only decent beaches are a ways away.
Split also tends to attract lots of wild, lads-on-holiday, drink-all-the-alcohol type travelers from within Europe.
Is Split worth visiting? Yes. Diocletian’s Palace is especially worth visiting, and it’s nice watching the sun go down on a square while having a glass of wine.
But Split is not the type of destination that travelers envision when planning a coastal holiday in Croatia. If you’re looking for a more peaceful atmosphere with nice beaches, the islands have more to offer. Zadar is lovely, too.
Someone on Reddit the other day asked for advice for their Croatia trip which had 10 days in Split and I spent a few hours convincing them to change their plans.
What’s the perfect amount of time to spend in Split? An overnight. I recommend arriving in the afternoon, exploring a bit, having a nice dinner, maybe dropping into a wine bar, and leaving in the morning by car or ferry. That’s all you need.
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